Houston Business Journal
By Myrtle Jones – Senior Vice President of Tax, Halliburton and Genesys Works Houston Board Member
Houston, Texas — Employers are struggling to fill jobs with experienced, skilled workers. In fact, job openings hit an all-time high in August 2018, and the Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that in just two years, 1.4 million computer science-related jobs will be open, with barely 400,000 qualified candidates to fill them.
As a solution, companies are upskilling and retraining workers through workforce initiatives. Companies understand that in order to keep pace with the changing economy, qualified workers are a must.
But while the skills gap is no secret, many hiring managers don’t know that hiring high school interns could be the key to building their organization’s talent pipeline.
According to Dan Schawbel, a workforce development expert and New York Times bestselling author, students should begin their careers as teenagers in order to be competitive in the college admissions process, for college internships and eventually for full-time jobs. For companies, hiring high school interns means they’re getting a jump start on filling future jobs.
At Halliburton, we see the value high school interns bring to our teams. As we celebrate our 100-year anniversary, we honor our many past and present employees who helped Halliburton reach this historic milestone, many of whom benefited from internship programs like Genesys Works. We believe welcoming young professionals onto our teams provides an enormous training opportunity and helps prepare students who may one day be our employees.
Needless to say, there are myths about hiring younger workers that we should debunk so that we don’t miss the opportunity to close the skills gap and train our future workforce.
1. High school interns don’t bring as much value as college-level ones.
High school students boast marketable qualities. For instance, young people ages 16 to 18 are digital natives who innately understand the latest technologies. That – coupled with programs that train them in technical skills before placing them in a company – creates a bright talent pool. Our high school interns are able to perform tasks that free up time for my staff to work on high-level, strategic execution. In IT roles, they fulfill valuable job duties such as helpdesk support, tracking equipment, and troubleshooting.
2. They aren’t a reliable workforce.
Often, high school students participate in internships through their public schools. They can sometimes earn course credit and have multiple levels of accountability. A recent survey by Millennial Branding and Internships.com found that 77 percent of high school students are extremely interested or very interested in volunteering to gain work experience, compared to 63 percent of college students. These younger students are eager to jump into an office environment, even if simply for the exposure. Other successful internship models provide students a wage for their work, which leads to better retention.
3. Teenagers aren’t professional and don’t have soft skills yet.
Learning soft skills at a young age can have a significant impact on one’s future. Having seen so many teenagers go through our internship program, I’m a firm believer that professional skills can be taught or even strengthened in high school. It’s not necessarily up to the employer to get this process started, either. Training programs exist to prepare these students for corporate internships. Students who are vetted through these programs show up on their first day with strong baseline knowledge of how to communicate professionally and manage their time efficiently.
4. I don’t have the capacity to start an internship program for high school students.
With the wealth of existing nonprofits, you don’t have to build a company initiative from scratch. Partnering with organizations – like Genesys Works, a national workforce development nonprofit – and having students placed strategically in your departments is as simple as hiring a contractor for project-based work. The internship can also be seen as a trial period to get a sense of your interns’ abilities. Many companies end up hiring directly from their pool of interns.
5. I need an intern for longer than just the summer.
Various organizations offer high school interns who can work throughout the school year. Spending nine months to a year with them can increase the value they provide and improve the mentorship experiences on both sides. Students can see their ideas come to life, get a better sense of the professional world outside of just a summer, and work through challenges that could come up in any workplace environment. In fact, a number of our interns have returned for positions after they graduated or completed other necessary credentials.
These are just some of the common misconceptions about hiring high school interns. My hope is that more companies will embrace this model – not just to bring immediate value to their teams, but to help train our future workers and pack the talent pipeline.
About Genesys Works
Genesys Works provides pathways to career success for high school students in underserved communities through skills training, meaningful work experiences, and impactful relationships. Our program consists of 8 weeks of technical and professional skills training, a paid year-long corporate internship, college and career coaching, and alumni support to and through college. Our goal is to move more students out of poverty and into professional careers, creating a more productive and diverse workforce in the process. Since its founding in 2002, Genesys Works has grown to serve nearly 4,000 students annually in Houston, Chicago, Minneapolis/St. Paul, the San Francisco Bay Area, and Washington’s National Capital Region. To learn more, visit genesysworks.org.